Public Health Madison & Dane County: Review of overdose deaths reveals troubling trends in Dane County

Public Health Madison & Dane County has released its 2022 Dane County Overdose Death Review (OFR) report. The report is a representation of efforts to collect data, analyze trends, hear real testimonials from families affected by drug overdoses and develop recommendations to prevent future deaths.

“Drug overdose deaths are 100% preventable. Reviewing overdose deaths provides us with the unique opportunity to gather comprehensive information about the lives of overdose victims and their interactions with various systems to better understand what factors may have contributed to these deaths,” said Janel Heinrich, Madison & Dane County Public Health Director.

The Dane County OFR case review team reviewed overdose death data from 2018 through 2020 (the most recent full data available). They also conducted an in-depth review of the lives of 20 people who died in 2020. Here are some key takeaways:

  • 138 people lost their lives due to drug overdoses in 2020, an increase of 39% since 2016.
  • Opioids continue to lead to drug overdose deaths, with nearly 9 in 10 deaths involving an opioid.
  • Deaths from synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, have been rising rapidly in Dane County.
  • Almost half of people who die of a drug overdose die with multiple drugs in their system.

The team offered interviews to families who lost a loved one to a drug overdose in 2020, which led to conversations with 25 people who shared stories about their loved ones.

“Family interviews provide information and context not found in medical or criminal justice records,” said Public Health Supervisor Julia Olsen. “We know that behind the numbers are real human beings who were loved and missed, lives that could have been saved. This is what drives every member of our team to engage in this ongoing work.

The report generated numerous recommendations, including expanding harm reduction services, developing a Dane County EMS Leave Behind program, reducing stigma, and increasing resources to support prevention of substance use.

“We have begun implementing recommendations such as promoting the Never Use Alone program and are actively seeking additional funding to expand our ability to put more of these recommendations into action,” Olsen said.

The 31-page OFR report can be viewed at, where you can also learn more about the Public Health Syringe Services program and sign up to receive overdose alerts.